High heat | AspenTimes.com

High heat

SNOWMASS Most riders’ dirt-caked faces were expressionless as they pedaled up Fanny Hill. Others could do little to conceal their pain.Competitors in Saturday’s Mountain States Cup Rocky Mountain Regional Championship Series pro and expert cross-country on Snowmass’ vaunted Big Burn track faced an arduous task. Loose rock made descents treacherous, and because of the hot, dry conditions, dirt stuck to everything from calves to derailleurs, Spandex, and even teeth. Race organizers tried to keep riders cool, offering water and showering them with light mist from a pressure sprayer. The relief was short-lived. When faced with the prospect of going another loop – a 11.6 mile trek covering 2,300 vertical feet and rising to an elevation of 10,000 feet – more than a few expert riders bowed out.”I can’t do it,” one said as he pulled off course and stood, hunched over his bike, shaking his head.Avon pro Jay Henry wasn’t about to give in. The 32-year-old literally left the field in his dust when he charged up the course’s first hill. He jockeyed for position against familiar foe Alan Obye of Boulder but managed to overcome bike trouble and fatigue to win the state championship – and his fourth Mountain States Cup title this season. He finished in just under 2 hours, 10 minutes; Obye, who took second, was about one minute behind.A year after she and her husband completed the pro sweep, Gunnison’s Jennifer Smith took first again. Complete results were not available Saturday.”It was a little more panicky than I was hoping at the end, but I hung on,” Henry said. “I had a look at the state championship jersey before the race, and I really wanted to get one.”He made an early push for that jersey when he vaulted into the lead just seconds after the start. “Jay clicked it up a few gears and dropped us all,” Obye said. “He climbed like a machine today.”The lead didn’t last long. Obye, riding a full-suspension bike, made up a deficit of nearly a minute on the course’s long downhill, aptly dubbed “Anaerobic Nightmare.” He then passed Henry, who was being tossed around on his hardtail. The course was so rough that he thought he had broken his fork.Henry put on a display of his climbing prowess, however, and opened up a gap of a minute and a half as he finished his first of two laps. That advantage ballooned to more than two minutes as he readied for the technical descent.”Alan is great on the descent, so I knew I had to attack on the rest of the course,” Henry said. “I knew I needed to get a good gap.”He was right. A slow leak in one of his tires, no doubt the result of a rock or tree root, turned into a major problem that forced Henry off his bike in the middle of the downhill. Well aware that he had a long ride to the finish, Henry took his time replacing the tube. By the time Henry was back in the saddle – after about two minutes, he estimated – Obye had the leader’s roostertail in sight.”There was a huge sense of urgency after giving up two minutes,” he said.It looked as if the two riders were poised for a tight race to the finish, reminiscent of the battle they waged during the final stretches of last year’s NORBA Nationals on the very same course. The two were locked in a sprint to the finish line; Henry edged Obye at the line to finish 10th. There’d be no drama Saturday.”I grabbed his back wheel for a few seconds,” Obye said. “Then he was gone.”Henry’s urgency showed as he extended his lead once more. After more than two hours of intense riding, his final margin of victory was little more than seconds.”It seems like we’ve been finishing 1-2 a lot lately – I can’t beat that guy to save my life,” Obye joked. “I survived, but it was brutal out there. I’m glad I didn’t have anyone with me on that last climb so I didn’t have to push it.”This course is as tough as it gets.”Obye, 24, a native of Vermont, was elated with the result despite coming up short. It was his first time competing since coming down with pneumonia a month earlier – the illness kept him off his bike for two and a half weeks. So, too, was Henry, who grabbed that championship jersey he craved. The state title is Henry’s second in 15 years of competitive racing.”It’s never easy to win out here, and I am thrilled,” he said. “Any time you have a mechanical [problem] and still finish first, it’s a good result.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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